Football racism strikes again in Brazil
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Football racism strikes again in Brazil

Brazil has been plunged into football soul-searching yet again — and this time it’s not because of a 7-1 defeat.

Instead, it comes in the wake of an incident last Thursday, when Santos goalkeeper Aranha was racially insulted by Grêmio fans, who directed monkey chants and a chorus of “smelly n—–” at him during a clash between the two teams in Porto Alegre.

In an emotional interview, Aranha said he was fine with being called “just n—–, because there is nothing to be ashamed of that.” He added that he feels there is nothing he can do about racism toward him, especially in Porto Alegre, one of the whitest capitals of Brazil.

“It is too many people. I can only say it hurts. Every time we come to Porto Alegre there is that fear or racism,” he said.

At the goalkeeper’s request, local police have opened an investigation into the incident, and Grêmio team officials have said they are helping police find the offenders. The investigation has already identified at least five people involved in the racist incident, including Grêmio fan Patricia Moreira, who has been fired from her job as a contractor with the state police of the southern Rio Grande do Sul state as a result.

Brazil’s sports court will consider penalties for the home team, which could range from a heavy fine to banning Grêmio from the Brazilian Cup. Since the team has nearly been eliminated anyway, many think even that option wouldn’t be harsh enough punishment.

The gaucho club said other racist fans will be kicked out of the club if they are identified.

Grêmio midfielder Zé Roberto was not optimistic. “There must be a penalty, but it won’t change much. Those incidents have become too frequent in Brazil,” he said. “When it happens in other countries, we are very critical. But now we have to look at ourselves. It happens here too.”

Read more: The emptiness of  ‘just say no’: How FIFA’s anti-racism rhetoric failed black players, Brazilians

For a country that is proud of its status as an ethnic melting pot, the incident comes as another blow in a year that made Brazilian bigots more visible than ever. For all the fury over hate and hooliganism in Europe, even Brazil — a country that is home to black superstars like Pelé, Mané Garrincha and Didi — has its share of public football racism.

In March, supporters of Esportivo, a team from Rio Grande do Sul, called a referee a monkey and placed bananas on his car. Soon afterwards, Santos midfielder Arouca was subjected to insults in Mogi Mirim, in São Paulo state, and just a few weeks ago, Grêmio fans used racial insults against Internacional’s Paulão.

Esportivo was removed from the local league, but a court later reversed that ruling. The other teams — and their fans — did not receive any sanctions.

Elsewhere, a lesser-known left fullback named Francisco Assis had hardly taken to the field for a match in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais when he was met with a chorus of “monkey,” “n—–,” “bastard” and “smelly.”

Last year, Barcelona right-back and Brazilian star Dani Alves triggered a worldwide anti-racism social media campaign after he picked up a banana that was thrown at him on the pitch and ate it.